In this article, we’re going to take a behind-the-scenes look at the process of creating Farnsworth animated featurette.
Recently, I had the opportunity to work closely with the team at Lumion to create an animated featurette inspired by the iconic Edith Farnsworth house.
With its unique and fascinating history and its exceptionally refined aesthetic, the Farnsworth house quickly became a powerful demonstration of the beauty of modernist minimalism.
As well as this, the visualizing the Farnsworth building has almost become a rite of passage for Lumion artists as one of the original example scenes in Lumion.
This design has been re-created in various styles over the years, and I couldn’t wait to explore it myself in an impactful and interesting way. You can watch the full animation here:
In this article, we’re going to take a behind-the-scenes look at the process of creating Farnsworth.
This isn’t going to be a tutorial as such, but rather an exploration of the various workflows that were used to create the Farnsworth animation. The general process of texturing, environment building, and effects creation have been covered fairly extensively in the past so I won’t be covering these in detail here.
Instead, I’m going to approach this breakdown scene by scene to explore the various techniques that were used to get the results found in the final animation. If you have any specific tutorial requests based on this project, please don’t hesitate to get in touch on The Lumion Collective Instagram and I’ll do my best to answer any questions you may have.
With that in mind, let’s get started!
Sketchup Pro: The building model was created in Sketchup pro and was assigned basic material IDs to kick-start the Visualization process. I like to approach this as a combined workflow, starting with bringing a basic model into Lumion to begin establishing compositions and the general look of the environment, and then refining this model as required. This ensures that no time is wasted detailing areas of the model that may not be seen in the final animation.
Lumion 12.5: The Farnsworth animated featurette was created using a collection of tools, however, everything you see in the animation is being rendered in Lumion 12.5. No color correction or editing of any of the clips has been done in post-production. What you see is what was rendered directly from Lumion.
Adobe Premiere Pro: With the raw rendered clips from Lumion, I used Adobe Premiere to compose the final edit of the animation and combine the various clips. It was here that the clips and transitions were stitched together and combined with the Audio that was heard throughout the animation.
PureRef: If you’ve read any of my articles before, you may have noticed that I’m a big fan of PureRef. It’s free software that offers a one-stop solution for reference boarding. I used it not only to keep track of all of my reference images in one place but also to storyboard my animations. If you haven’t used PureRef in the past, you can download it here for free.
Quixel Megascans: I’ve been a big fan of Megascans assets for a while now, as they offer a vast catalog of 3D scanned objects at a reasonable price. These assets were used extensively in creating the environments of Farnsworth, and when combined with thousands of Lumion nature models the opportunities for unique environment creation are endless.
Blender: Blender was used to create a few specialist assets which I'll discuss later in the article.
THE WORLD OF FARNSWORTH
Creating story-driven animations can be an overwhelming task. It requires not only an understanding of how to visualize a building but also how to anchor it into a virtual world that convinces the viewer to lower their guard and allow themselves to enjoy the journey that is being crafted.
It’s a difficult process and one that requires some out-of-the-box thinking when setting up the various shots to ensure that everything can come together in an interesting and believable way.
Let’s explore how this was approached in Farnsworth, and learn about the challenges that were encountered as well as the techniques that were used to overcome these.
When creating a story-driven animation, one of the most important elements is context.
Context is what establishes a world for our viewers to get drawn into. It provides the connection between what the audience knows to be real from their own experiences and the virtual world that is being presented to them.
SCENE BY SCENE BREAKDOWN
In Farnsworth, the first thirty seconds are dedicated to this. We see various perspectives of the surroundings and from the opening shots, we understand the type of environment that the story takes place.
Trees moving in the wind, and the subtle shift of clouds in the background quickly establish the tone and mood of the animation. The melancholic audio accompanies this, and when combined with a variety of soundscape effects, the audience can form a familiar attachment with scenarios that they may have experienced in their own lives time and time again.
A common theme in these opening shots is the weather.
The various pieces of nature act almost as silhouettes, as we see them dance across the various blue hues in the sky.
To establish this, I started with the Real Skies effect.
In order to get a darker tone throughout, I lowered the ‘Overall Brightness’ slider, which reduces the intensity of ambient lighting throughout the scene. Combining this with a lower exposure level, we can create an aesthetic that resembles the moments just after the sun has set.
This time of day evokes an almost uncomfortable feeling, yet when accompanied by the audio and sounds, it’s also beautiful.
As the sound of the rain and wind begins to increase, I made use of an audio bridge to transition into the next phase of the weather.
This transition involves adding audio from one clip (in this case the sound of rain), into the previous clip. By doing this, we continue to connect the various parts of the world in both a visual and auditory way, providing an extra layer of immersion to the opening shots.
We hear the sound of the rain increase in volume and see a significant change in the composition, which up until this point has revealed only small parts of the environment. This wider-angle shot opens up the world and builds on the weather effects that were teased in the previous shots.
An interesting feature of this is the subtle movement of the clouds in the background. To do this, I first started with the Real Sky effect that had been used in previous clips and then layered on the Volumetric Clouds effect.
This gives an additional layer of clouds to the scene and also allows for their position and size to be animated with key frames.
By combining these two sky effects, It gives the impression that the world extends much further than the small area shown in most of the animation.
At the thirty-second mark, we’re introduced to the first glimpse of the building. The stark white border of the floating platform below stands out among the relative darkness around it.
The camera here uses a much harsher shake, giving the idea that the weather and atmosphere are getting more chaotic as the story progresses.
One thing I tried to inject here is the desire to see more. The opening shots get progressively darker, and once the rain sets in, visibility decreases even further. We’re left craving a light source that can reveal where we’re supposed to focus our attention.
In the final shots of this opening sequence, we’re provided with a small glimmer of light coming from the interior of the building. It’s here that we’re also introduced to a larger part of the building's structure, however, we’re still yet to see the exterior in its entirety.
Audio and sound effects are used extensively here. The soundscape continues to increase in volume until we’re left with a crescendo of natural sounds as the impending storm reaches its peak. As the camera movement continues to increase in intensity, we capture a slight glimpse of fire through the rain-frosted windows and we’re left with a desire for shelter.
In a sudden jump, we receive this shelter.
The deafening rain is dulled to a quiet hum, and the musical track takes charge. It sets the pace for the proceeding clips and allows the viewer to take refuge in the protection of the building.
Piece by piece we begin to explore the carefully crafted details that the Farnsworth building is famed for. The minimalist color palette and the curated collection of furniture are the heroes of the interior, and they allow the viewer to enjoy these intricate details at a slower pace.
The texture images here were refined to interact with the lighting conditions of the interior. On one hand, we have the gloomy hues of the exterior environment bleeding into the interior. This connects the building to the environment and world that was established in the opening sequence and provides a ‘global tone’ for the scene.
We then have small, carefully placed pops of low lighting. These accentuate the different material and decor choices and provide points of interest that draw the eye. These small areas of warm lighting also help to exaggerate the feeling of comfort as the viewer escapes from the cold night outside.
We see only two wide-angle shots in this interior sequence, and these are used carefully to connect the heavily zoomed-in shots to the space.
It also helps to provide further information on how each of these elements interacts with one another, further establishing context to the world of Farnsworth.
Slow camera movements are key here, allowing the viewer to discover the space at a leisurely pace.
Static camera shots were used to add contrast to the constant camera movements that have occurred to this point. The rain and foggy backdrop help to add life to what is otherwise a still render.
I used a single spotlight to light up the chair and add visual contrast to the otherwise dark tone that this clip takes on.
Given the atmosphere in this part of the animation, I made heavy use of effects that enhanced the look of the artificial light sources. Lens flare is perfect for this, as it allowed me to selectively add bloom to the brightest point where the light meets the white rug beneath.
Combining this with the Bloom effect provided a subtle haze over the entire render that helped to soften the clip and add character to what is otherwise a very basic composition.
The fireplace is an interesting element of the Farnsworth animation. In the physical building, it plays a prominent role in how the interior layout is seen. It introduces a metal material to what is otherwise a very earthy color palette, and although it maintains the minimal aesthetic of the design it is still positioned as a hero element in the room.
I wanted to exaggerate this idea. By adding an active fire, this became the only moving ‘character’ in the interior portion of the animation. It also provided a central light source that interacted with almost every part of the scene.
Despite this, only one standalone clip is dedicated to the fire, with all other clips showing it as a blurred background element. This ensures that although fire’s presence is known in each clip, it wouldn’t become a focal point that could potentially distract the viewer.
I’ve always had a hard time creating a realistic-looking fire in Lumion, and so although it isn’t a focal point of the animation I wanted to experiment with a better workflow here.
One key element to this was to add some embers to the fire models. I created this using a particle simulation in Blender. I exported this simulation to Lumion and applied an emissive material as the texture before positioning it amongst the flame.
This took a few iterations, but finally, I was able to create something that resembled the look of flyaway embers.
From here it was just a matter of positioning a few different volumetric fire models to create the rest of the fire.
What proceeds is a collection of close-up shots that illustrate the various materials, and their relationship to the building.
It may come as a surprise to know that for all of the furniture models, the same leather texture was used. The difference is in the glossiness map and color variations that are unique to each model.
In doing this, I was able to simulate the different ware patterns and give each piece of furniture (and its associated materials) a unique character and personality of its own.
Understanding how best to implement imperfections into Lumion is an important step in creating believable renders and can make all the difference in how different parts of your scene are perceived.
The final close-up shot features a custom lamp model that I created for this scene. This is inspired by some of the original light fixtures that have been present in the Farnsworth house over the years.
The majority of the lamp is covered in a metal texture that once again makes use of a custom glossiness map that’s packed with imperfection details such as fingerprints, scratches, and dirt. Each of these details causes the reflective properties to change as they move across the different parts of the model.
My favorite part about this shot is that it acts as both a silhouette and a light source at the same time.
(Highlight only Shadow silhouette)
The blue backdrop adds a degree of contrast to the lamp’s support and causes it to take up the foreground of the image as a standing silhouette, however, as the camera proceeds to move, the different reflections move with it.
Finally, we close out the final clip for this sequence with the second wide-angle shot, this time front-on with all parts of the scene in view.
This closing shot helps to tie together all of the elements that have been explored so far. It shows the various light sources interacting with each other - something that had been teased throughout the rest of the animation.
As the camera pulls back, It gives the viewer a moment to absorb the space in its entirety, before the scene begins to fade to black.
One of the more unique parts of this animation is the two-phase approach to telling the story.
This was done to reflect the perspectives of both Edith Farnsworth, as well as the idyllic view that many have of the Farnsworth design. This inspiration is what drove the story of Farnsworth, and it played a vital role in how the featurette was composed.
In part two of this behind-the-scenes look at Farnsworth, I’ll be breaking down the various scenes that were included in the second phase of the animation. There, you’ll learn about the approach that was taken to building the gorgeous autumn-hued environment and how these were best shown in the final animation.
Keep an eye out for that in the coming days!
WANT TO KNOW MORE?
If you’d like to know more about the inspiration behind the Farnsworth featurette, as well as take a closer look at my process of storytelling in architectural visualization then I encourage you to check out a guest article that I was lucky enough to contribute to the official Lumion Blog.
In it, I discuss the various inspirations for Farnsworth, my collaboration with Lumion, and how we were able to integrate various parts of the building’s history into the final animation. I also explore the idea of Storytelling in Arch-viz and how you can apply this format in your own projects.
You can find that article here: Revisiting a classic: a cinematic exploration of Farnsworth in Lumion